By Nikole Lambert
All over the country, workers are demanding change. They are tired of working full-time and just barely getting by. Several states – most recently California – have approved legislation to gradually increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour, adjusting it to account for higher living costs.
Senator Marc Pacheco proposed a bill to the Massachusetts legislature in January that would, if passed, raise the minimum wage from $8 per hour to $11 per hour by 2016. After that, the minimum wage would be increased annually based on inflation in the Consumer Price Index. Proponents for the bill argue that the wage increase will stimulate the economy by encouraging consumer spending, while critics call it a “job killer.”
‘We have turned into what I would call a post-Industrial society, which means that we don’t really manufacture goods anymore. Without factories, people without skills end up in service occupations such as the food industry, where they earn minimum wage,” said Professor Eric Budd of the FSU Political Science department. “Unions used to fight for higher wages, which made it possible to move up in society. Without these unions, remaining in the middle class…is getting harder.” He lamented that the American Dream for these workers was unattainable. Professor Budd also worries that lower minimum wages will result in a weak democracy; with the elite on the top of society, and a gap between the rich and the poor.
Kurt Wise, Senior Analyst at the Mass Budget and Policy Center (MassBudget), has studied the effects of raising the minimum wage in the past. Real life studies, in communities which have voluntarily passed similar legislation, have found that putting money back in the pockets of spenders has not led to the job loss predicted by opponents. “Most businesses are already paying minimum wage or better…[raising the wage] would give about 500,000 workers a step up [economically],” Wise said. He also cited higher productivity levels and lower turnover rates as a perk of better compensating employees.
According to Wise, “having an automatic increase for inflation prevents erosion [of purchasing power], and removes the constant need for this debate.” When the cost of living increases but the wages remain the same, the purchasing power of that wage decreases. People can’t buy as much when the costs rise, but their salary stays the same. The original order of the Massachusetts legislature for the minimum wage was that it must be high enough to “supply the necessary cost of living.”
“It’s unfortunate…people who are working a full work week shouldn’t be living in poverty…it’s not right morally, [and it’s] bad for the economy,” Wise commented.
FSU student Andra Malerbi, age 20, has worked at Dunkin Donuts for about two years, and is still making $8 per hour – the state minimum. She is able to save a little out of each paycheck, but only because she isn’t fully supporting herself right now. If Malerbi’s pay went up, she said, “I don’t think I’d spend any extra, but I’d have to take on more expenses if I could afford them.” She suggested that, “maybe if they made the minimum wage higher, so [people] could live on it, maybe they would move out earlier.” If this were the case, certainly it would stimulate the economy with a younger generation who was financially independent.
The bill, to raise minimum wages, S.878, was scheduled for review on June 11, 2013 by the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. No action has yet been taken since the hearing. Activist group Raise Up Massachusetts is hoping to get enough signatures on a petition to place the bill on the November 2014 ballot.
On September 5th, Attorney General Martha Coakley approved this bill, among 28 others, to appear on the 2014 ballot if supporters can collect 80,000 signatures. Are you in?